A young father giving his daughter a shoulder ride

When a parent experiences a significant life change, he or she may need to modify a child custody order. In North Carolina, requesting a child custody modification isn’t an easy or fast process, but it can be done. The parent requesting the modification must show they’ve experienced a substantial change in circumstances and that the changes are in the child’s best interest.

Discuss Your Case With a Skilled Family Law Attorney

Modifying a child custody order isn’t a simple process in North Carolina. Once a court has decided on a child custody arrangement, they do not like to change the arrangement unless it’s clearly warranted and in the child’s best interest. If you are pursuing a child custody order modification, the attorneys at Greene Wilson Crow & Smith are here to help. One of our skilled family law attorneys will provide excellent legal representation throughout the process. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.

How to Change a Child Custody Order in North Carolina

Before you begin pursuing a petition to modify your child custody agreement, we recommend consulting with an experienced attorney. Until a court decides to modify your custody agreement, you must continue abiding by the terms of the custody agreement. 

Even if you and your co-parent agree to the proposed modifications, you must continue following your current child custody order until the court has ruled on your petition to modify the order. Individuals can pursue a modification without legal representation, but working with an attorney is recommended because the modification process isn’t straightforward. 

Reasons to Modify a Child Custody or Visitation Order

Family courts in North Carolina are responsible for seeking children’s best interests and overall welfare. As a result, the parent pursuing a modification of a child custody order must prove the following:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances
  • The substantial change affects the welfare of the child or children, and
  • It is in the child’s best interest to modify or change the existing child support order 

What Is a Substantial Change in Circumstances?

Proving a substantial change in circumstances has occurred can be difficult. For example, a parent acting rudely, saying bad things in front of the child, or making decisions you disagree with won’t rise to these standards. Some circumstances that meet this requirement might be a parent abusing drugs or alcohol or bringing home a romantic partner who is abusive to the child. The courts may consider all of the following factors when deciding to modify a child custody order:

  • A parent moving to another location
  • Remarriage of a parent
  • A parent living or “cohabitating” with another person
  • A change in financial condition, such as a job loss
  • Evidence regarding a change in a minor child’s mental health
  • The child’s school records
  • Testimony from the child and parent
  • Record of school absences
  • Child’s poor performance at school, disciplinary history, or drop in grades

Determining the Child’s Best Interest at a Hearing

When both parents are not in agreement regarding the requested modification, the court will examine evidence from both parents. The court will examine witness testimony and provide the opportunity for the parties to cross-examine witnesses. The judge will consider the testimony of both parents along with any other evidence presented at a hearing. At the end of the hearing, the judge will determine whether modifying the child custody agreement is necessary.

Child Custody Disputes Must Go Through Mediation

Requesting to modify a child custody order can take time because North Carolina Courts require all custody disputes to go through mediation. Mediation is the first option for resolving a child custody dispute. A mediator is an independent third party the court selects to help parents make informed decisions regarding child custody and visitation.

When the parents cannot agree in mediation, the petition to modify the child custody order will go to court. The mediation process itself takes a significant amount of time. After the mediation process is completed, the parents requesting the modification will have to take time to go through a trial, which can make the process lengthy and challenging.

Emergency Petition to Modify Child Custody Order in North Carolina

A parent or relative may need to request an emergency petition for child custody when a child’s health and safety are immediately at risk. If you are a parent or family member concerned about your child’s health and welfare, you can petition the court for emergency custody of the child. 

When justified, a court can issue an emergency custody order that results in the child being removed from his or her current caretaker. However, it’s important to understand that these types of petitions are considered serious matters. A judge will not grant the petition unless it is clear that the child is immediate harm with a substantial risk of:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical injury, such as in a home with someone abusive or neglectful to the point where serious injury is possible, and/or
  • Abduction or being removed from North Carolina as a way to evade a court or custody order

Abduction can include a parent relocating with a child during a divorce, but that won’t necessarily result in the petition being granted. Not allowing visitation to an immediate family member, disagreeing with a parenting decision, or similar issues aren’t serious enough grounds for immediate custody. If a judge grants your emergency order, you’ll receive immediate custody until your hearing date, which will occur within ten days. Both parties will appear before a judge and present evidence at the hearing.

Contact a North Carolina Child Custody Modification Attorney

When it comes to child custody matters, determining the best interest of a child or children can be difficult. Whether you want to pursue or challenge a modification of your child custody order, you will benefit from working with an experienced attorney. Contact Greene Wilson Crow & Smith today to schedule your free initial consultation and learn more about your legal rights and options.